Because our calendar is 365 days, each year a particular date gets moved forward by one day. If your birthday is on Monday this year it will be on Tuesday next year, and so on. The exception to this is when we have a Leap Year and things move forward by two days, as was the case in 2012. Today, Ash Wednesday, is February 13th. But for the Leap Year last year it would be the 14th. Valentine's Day would have shared its holiday with Ash Wednesday. Not only would we have that seemingly odd pairing, but Easter, which falls on March 31st this year would have found itself sharing with April Fool's Day, creating another paradoxical sort of holiday.
Or maybe it isn't so clashing as it first seems. Valentine's Day is about love, and relationships. Ash Wednesday is about relationships too. In addition to being a "Hallmark Holiday," Valentine's Day also becomes an easy opportunity for us to make up for some of the sins of the past year, month, week, or often in my case, day, when it comes to the relationship we have with our loved one. A quiet meal, simple conversation, and of course a nice dessert go a long way to smooth over our previous transgressions and rekindle the romance in our lives.
Ash Wednesday is about a similar effort to rekindle romance. This time the romance is between us and God. We take the dried out old palm branches, reminders of that honeymoon like moment in our relationship where things were so amazing and burn them, creating ash. We humbly acknowledge our mistakes, accept our sins, and mark our selves with ashes, a sign of penance. Then we embark on a 46 day journey called Lent, where we try to repair the brokenness in our relationship and move forward towards Easter.
April Fool's Day is about trickery, deception and lies. It is an instance of frivolity and mayhem, seemingly lacking any sense of solemn dignity. How in the world is this anything like Easter, the high point of the Christian year as we celebrate the great triumph of Christ over sin and death? While we have certainly made Easter into a high ceremony I wonder if it was really meant that way. Maybe God has more of a sense of humor than we give the Divine credit for. After all, isn't Easter the greatest April Fool's prank of all? Jesus takes the worst that his enemies can give him and just when they think they have won he emerges from the tomb, stronger than ever. In C.S. Lewis' depiction of Easter in Narnia, Aslan returns filled with mirth and romps and plays with the women before racing off to save others. When Gandalf (arguably a Christ-figure in Middle Earth) returns he is also filled with joy and laughs deeply at various points.
When I first saw the calendar this year I was relieved to not have to deal with the tension of holidays falling on the same day. The more I look at it the more I think we gain something by juxtaposing these seemingly disparate events onto each other. At least it gives me something to think about.